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by Raven Healing

Since the beginning of the new Russian Federation in 1991, elections have regularly been held in a repressive environment of violence, coercion and dis-information. The Russian presidential elections of March 14 were no exception. The bombing of a commuter train in Moscow just a week earlier, leaving some 40 dead, was quickly blamed on the Chechens by President Vladimir Putin before an investigation had even been launched. Putin went on to win re-election.

Before the bombings, things were actually looking up for the Chechen people. Members of the European Parliament were calling for Russia to end the violence in Chechnya and to accept the Akhmadov Peace Plan, drawn up by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Chechnya's elected president Aslan Maskhadov, who is now with the guerilla resistance to the Russian occupation. The plan is an agreement of conditional independence calling for the removal of Russian soldiers from Chechnya, and the placement of UN peacekeepers in the region.

But as election week began in Russia, the situation was similar to what it was during the Russian-overseen Chechen Republic presidential elections of October 2003, in which the rule of Russian-appointed official Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov was confirmed. Rights observers worldwide have protested the atmosphere of terror in which Kadyrov was elected.

In the first two months of 2004, there have been over 43 "disappearances" or arbitrary arrests in Chechnya. Some, like that of Chechen human rights activist Aslan Davletukaev, involved a number of armored personnel carriers and military jeeps. Davletukaev was a volunteer who documented human rights abuses in Chechnya for the Society of Russian-Chechen Friendship (SRCF). On Jan. 10, he was beaten and kidnapped by 50 Russian soldiers who arrived in three armored vehicles. His body was found on the side of a road on Jan. 16.

The number of abductions for January and February of 2004 is less than in the same time last year--not because peace has come to Chechnya, but because the methods used by the Russian military have changed. A year ago, there were mass round-ups of civilians to detainment camps, with many reported tortured. Now, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), the military is using what are called "targeted cleansing operations"--a group of armed men will kidnap an "undesirable" individual at night, and take him to a "zindan," an underground pit, where they are kept in solitary confinement for days or weeks, often receiving beatings and tortures. Those who return alive from a zindan are unwilling to speak about it, rights watchers say.

In addition, the federal army purposefully turns a blind eye to roaming gangs (often consisting of Russian soldiers and Kadyrov's men) who loot and rape past curfew every night in Grozny, the Chechen capital. The same army will punish any civilian caught out after curfew.

In an attempt to sweep the crisis in Chechnya under the rug, the Russian government has been shutting down refugee camps in neighboring Ingushetiya and coercing refugees to return to Chechnya. Today, in Chechnya there are 176,000 unemployed adults, and 200,000 internally displaced people--as Russia tries to convince the world that everything is returning to normal in the occupied republic.

Chechnya has been intermittently fighting for its independence since Tsarist Russia invaded in the 18th century. When the USSR dissolved in 1991, Chechnya declared its independence, and held its own elections, in which Jokhar Dudayev was elected president. But the Russian Federation refused to recognize independent Chechnya, and invaded in 1994. In 1996, the Russian military pulled out, essentially admitting defeat after the Chechens regained Grozny--despite Russian aerial bombardment of the city. Chechnya had achieved de facto independence, with its own army, its own government and ability to defend its own borders. Russia agreed to put off the question of Chechnya's status for five years.

The same year, President Dudayev was assassinated and Vice President Zemlikhan Yanderbaiev assumed power following the new Chechen constitution. The following year, Chechnya again held elections, in which Aslan Maskhadov was elected. (Yanderbaiev was recently assassinated in Qatar, where two admitted Russian secret agents have been arrested in the murder.)

For many, there was a sense of history repeating itself in the February 2004 Moscow train bombing. In 1999, a series of Moscow apartment building bombings were blamed on the Chechens. At that time, Vladimir Putin, who had just been promoted from head director of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB, successor of the KGB) to prime minister, used these bombings to rally the nation behind a renewed war on the Chechen republic. After only four months of war, in December 1999, then-President Boris Yeltsin resigned and Putin became acting president of Russia. Putin rode the wave of public support for the reconquest of Chechnya to win the Russian presidential elections the following year. Later, a member of Russia's FSB, Alexander Litvinenko, publicly claimed that the apartment bombings were not carried out by Chechens, but were actually covert FSB operations.

Since Chechnya's independence was never fully recognized by the UN, the invasion and ongoing occupation is viewed as an "internal issue." Maskhadov still asserts he is the legitimate president of Chechnya--but a president who is on the run, a wanted man in his own country, considered a "terrorist" by Russia.

Since the first invasion of 1994, over 200,000 Chechens have been killed out of a population of less than 1 million. This drew much criticism from the international community, leading President Bush to say in February 2000 that Putin was dealing with Chechnya in a way "not acceptable to peaceful nations." Bush urged Putin to negotiate with Chechen rebels to reach a solution to the conflict.

Predictably, the events of September 11 gave the Bush administration the green light to be more honest about the US policy towards Chechnya. The administration now claims an al-Qaeda link to the Chechen rebels, while declaring Russia an "ally in the War on Terrorism." The US needed help from Russia to gain access to Central Asian countries and air corridors to conduct the 2001 war in Afghanistan.

Later, the invasion of Iraq again created tensions between the US and Russia, as Russia had a long-standing relationship with Saddam's Iraq. However, as the second largest exporter of petroleum in the world, and a non-OPEC counterbalance to the oil producers of the Middle East and Venezuela, Russia is an ally the US does not want to alienate. The Bush administration now openly supports the Russian campaign in Chechnya, and the US State Department has added Chechen rebel Shamil Basaev to their international terrorist list. Now Basaev, like everyone else on the list, is considered a "threat" to the United States.

While both Bush and Putin are looking for what it takes to increase their ratings, the violence committed against civilians on a daily basis in Chcehcnya is approaching a scale that some rights groups say is worthy of the term "genocide."


Photos of Russian-occupied Chechnya are on-line at

Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, April 9, 2004 Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.